Now, exactly what was it, that was holding me back from applying what I was learning about the Ainu experience in Japan to the experience in the West? Why the reluctance to interrogate that connection? It was a combination of lingering settler guilt and complicated feelings towards my own identity, which takes us back to childhood.

I was raised by a very assimilated Blackfoot woman, and her white husband. My mom loved Pendleton patterns, rocked some wicked cool beadwork jewelry, and would sing along loudly to powwow and country music in the car (Which was very unusual in Hawaii), but that was about the extent of her connection to her cultural identity, she’d left most of it behind in Montana. My father could almost be described as “infamous” for his views on Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination: He was among those who made an active effort to stop the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement. He was even the first non-Hawaiian person to run for chair of Office of Hawaiian Affairs (he didn’t win, obviously) and hung around with more notable anti-sovereigntists, such as H.W Burgess and Thurston Twigg-Smith, who opposed both Hawaiian sovereignty and “preferential treatment” for Native Hawaiians, under the assumption that such actions were “harmful” to the multiculturalism of Hawaii and were overly obsessed with dwelling on supposed wronghoods from the past to boot. Twigg-Smith even wrote a book called Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter? which argued that American annexation had in fact, been a liberation for Native Hawaiians.

I can remember when my father wrote letters to Trent Lott and other U.S senators to try to kill the Federal Apology Bill which recognized the tragedy and wronghood of Hawaii’s annexation to the United States. A few times, my father and his friends even encouraged me to either apply for admission to Kamehameha Schools (A school whose enrollment is limited to students of Native Hawaiian descent) or to apply for Native Hawaiian-only scholarships. I didn’t do that, because I was a young kid who was self-conscious about being socially outcast, but I passively accepted their beliefs about Native sovereignty being a crock, that racism was over and legal programs to aid Native peoples were wasteful and divisive, and that Hawaii was better off as an American colony than it had been as an independent kingdom. Mercifully, these toxic ideas were slightly tempered by my education in Hawaii public schools, which, at least while I was growing up, placed a great emphasis on learning Hawaiian culture, language, history, and music. But that alone wasn’t enough to combat what I was learning at home. 

As you can probably guess, my father, with his strong, assertive, dominating personality, contributed significantly more to my intellectual and cultural development as a child. My mother filled more of a background role, which meant that any Native pride I might have gotten from her that wasn’t diffused by her being assimilated was lost in the influence my non-Native father had over my upbringing. The only time that I really felt a connection to the Native side of me growing up was when we would take our annual trek to Montana, to visit my mother’s parents. I loved going to Montana. I loved visiting with my grandparents, playing with the family dogs, swimming in the lakes and rivers, exploring the wilderness, going to rodeos and powwows, hiking in Glacier Park.

It felt so different, so invigorating, and inspired my young imagination in a way Hawaii never had. Mom noticed this, and around the age of seven, when we started making regular trips to Montana, she started to put more of an effort into making me feel good about who I was and where I came from. She bought me bead jewelry, Native American Barbie dolls, and my first pair of moccasins. My grandparents told me stories about the old ways and the old days, and encouraged me to learn more about the stories all around me, in the natural world outside of our front doors. 

My father died when I was thirteen, but this didn’t help my mother become more influential over me. It strengthened my will to live up to his legacy, so I became more interested in finding out about my father’s cultural background. The fact that that was to be the year of my bat mitzvah strengthened this resolve, and my “Jewishness” entirely eclipsed those traces of Native identity my mom had cultivated. 

When you fast  forward to university, that should offer context: I was very much complicit in colonialism from childhood, moreso than the average settler individual, and I was having issues about whether my Native identity was even legitimate. 

What set me on the path towards recognizing the Indigenous within myself, even though I was raised diasporic, urban, and as far from my home territory as one can imagine, was a chance meeting with Louise Erdrich, some reading material, and, oddly enough, my move away from Montana to Victoria. When I met Louise Erdrich, I swore she was a light-skinned version of my mother. She had the same peachy toned skin, light eyes, and dark brown hair as me. She was incredibly kind, intelligent, creative, and told me that I seemed “familiar” to her, as if I were an old friend come to visit again whom she’d known forever. 

As silly and arbitrary as it may sound to non-Natives or those who have never had any question about whether they “look” Native, that experience changed me. It gave me confidence, and one particular barrier towards declaring myself Native vanished in a single encounter. 

After that, I read every book of hers, along with any other Native women writers I could get my hands on. A particularly special shout-out is owed to Chrystos, who managed to do the incredible double-duty of not only helping me come into my Indigeneity, but also my queerness. Leslie Marmon Silko also deserves an honour for her stories and poetry. I was becoming progressively more and more comfortable with calling myself “Blackfoot” and “Native”. 

I left Montana for various reasons, enough to constitute its own story for another day. When I arrived in Victoria, what enchanted me was the strong connections between each advocacy group on campus at UVic, there were friendly, respectful, collaborative relationships between Pride, the Students of Colour Collective, the student disability group, the Women’s Centre, and the Native Students Union. It was a friendly student (and now, fellow Indigenous Feminist!) who served on the NSU council who encouraged me to join and get involved in their activities, in spite of my feeling that it may not be appropriate. I couldn’t thank him enough for giving me the confidence booster to say “Yes, I can get involved with this!” 

Since coming to Victoria, two years ago now, I’ve undergone the most radical, and sometimes painful, changes of all, towards Indigenous Feminism. After all, I couldn’t fully do that without acknowledging my childhood history that I discussed up there, could I? I will save that for the third part!